While 2016 has been a year plagued by fear, uncertainty, and, at times, hatred, music and the artist expression of those emotions provided a realm of sonic solace this past year for any and all who chose to listen. Sometimes these periods of negativity serve as the fertilization for unexpected creativity from new up-and-coming artists as well as already established legends.
With such a surge of musical content this year, it is nearly impossible to pick just 10 albums that stand above the rest–but, this, my friends is never a bad problem to have. Shifting back to a musical landscape that focuses on albums and storytelling rather than singles and radio hits, this list is bound by no single genre. No single direction or radio station had a level of production so far superior to others.
From hip-hop to alternative, to electronic, the sophistication, thoughtfulness, and innovation of music in 2016 surpassed any and all hopes and expectations. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at River Beats’ picks for the 10 most influential albums of 2016 (in no particular order)
Defying all preconceived notions that record labels were needed to achieve commercial (even Grammy) success, Chance’s third album made gospel accessible, enjoyable, and even radio-friendly. With more features than maybe any other album this year, Chance solidified his place in our music libraries with Coloring Book.
Although this album might have been missing from other sites “Best Albums” lists this year, there was no way River Beats could ignore the gift given by Griz this past year. The Detroit native never once lets up on his electro-funk roots and lets the saxophone’s swag drive each and every track throughout the album. The sax allows him to shift from up-tempo to smooth to anything in between, and back again. Griz never disappointed us before and he sure didn’t this time around.
The unexpected, shining star amongst electronic music releases, Kaytranada wowed us all with his debut album. An album that could serve as the score for a long drive, late night, or lively day party, the vibes captured on these tracks have no bounds. Special shoutout to his collab with Anderson .Paak, which is easily the runaway track on the album.
Just when we thought the Rap/Hip-Hop game couldn’t get any better, a resurgence from the legendary ATCQ surprised a nation and showed us all exactly how it is done. A tribute to the late, great Phife Dawg, the rest of the Tribe did not hesitate to deliver with the heavy beats and lyricism we know them all to deliver.
Everyone who has long awaited this new album from Justice knows the French duo are nothing if not a class act when it comes to electronic music production. The transformation heard with Woman is in their lyrics, content, and holistic vision. It is clear that the duo wanted this album to contain more than just groovin’ beats, but life lessons and a message for all their followers who have waited for so long.
Finally. Yes. Yes.
Trust us. If you haven’t listened to this album, do it. Now.
Jaar’ Sirens would also definitely belong on a list of “music who haven’t heard but should” because I can say, at least for me personally, this is the most thoughtful, groundbreaking electronic release of 2016. No words could adequately describe the sonic contrasts, innovative percussion, or cerebral sampling used by Jaar. However, with Sirens Jaar has certainly solidified his spot amongst the top tier artists of music production for the years to come.
In a world where visual albums are becoming more and more of the norm, it seems confusing to refer to Epoch as “vibrant,” “visual,” or “cinematic.” But, truthfully that’s exactly what the latest LP from Tycho is. There is growth throughout the album–whether it be in the melody, tone, percussion. You name it, and it progresses from simple and intriguing to an overwhelmingly intelligent complexity within the hour. With this release, Tycho is sure to be on the festival circuit for 2017; I’d recommend you not miss it.
Sometimes I forget that, despite the obnoxiously large crowds Flume draws in a festival setting, he is one of the most prolific music producers in the game. With an untouched production ability, the Australian native delivered a HUGE album with the release of Skin. Collaborations with artists like Vince Staples, Little Dragon, and even Beck (!!) demonstrate just how far Flume has come on his journey as a force to be reckoned with, not just in electronic music, but in the music industry as a whole.
How does one pick the album worthy of the last slot on a list of 10 albums? Well, regardless of whether or not you’re familiar or not, A Seat at the Table was one of the most important albums to be released this year, regardless of genre. The lesser-known Knowles sister showed the world exactly what she’s made of with an album born and recorded in New Orleans that delivers the thematic overtones of racial oppression and freedom without every forcing down anyone’s throat. Her presentation and delivery is every bit as sweet and soft-served as you’d want to hear on a rainy summer morning, but her lyricism and carefully-chosen interludes leave no room for misinterpreting the anger and importance of her message, and the message of African-American women everywhere.
Written By: Camila Woodmansee